In just a few years, we will flip the calendar to a new decade. However, in a rapidly evolving industry like solar, a few years can mean significant changes. So what will solar systems look like in 2020? Fronius has some bold predictions they’d like to share, as well as a new website configuration, which you can check out here.
It’s 2020 and Texan solar installer Joe just closed a sale on a residential 5 kWp system. It was an easy sale to a family of four, since solar really became mainstream and customer acquisition costs came way down. Solar and its value proposition have reached the masses! This home owner’s roof is fairly complex in shape, but thanks to smart technologies, this is no longer an issue. There is no need for special designs or installation hassles to mitigate the effects of shading and different roof orientations – making it easier to provide solar to the masses to provide solar to the masses.
Installer Joe sometimes looks back on code changes and how concerned some of his colleagues have been – how can we comply with all this while staying cost effective, they were wondering? Code has always been one of the main drivers for change and strongly impacted how systems are built. Examples are Arc Fault Current Interruption (AFCI), which was introduced in the National Electrical Code (NEC) of 2011, or Rapid Shutdown in NEC 2014 and 2017. But code changes are also a driver for overall innovation, which leads to cost reduction and simplification of systems – letting installer’s concerns vanish.
When module level shutdown came up, new technologies evolved and provided new solutions. Every module in 2020 is a safe or smart module, coming with an integrated chip that replaces the classical bypass diode. These smart modules install like standard modules, but provide all functionality needed: Power Line Communication for rapid shutdown, DC optimization and more reliability. New technology start-ups are flooding the industry, supplying module manufacturers with better and better chips for smart modules, reducing cost and disrupting traditional MLPE. With smart modules based on an open industry standard, add-on boxes such as traditional DC optimizers, micro-inverters or rapid shutdown boxes are no longer needed in 2020.
The best part is that solar installers can choose between a variety of smart module brands, since they are all based on the SunSpec standard, which enables compatibility with any SunSpec based inverter. So customers can chose whatever module brand they like and combine it with whatever inverter they like – eliminating vendor locked-in solutions. Even though solar roof tiles are an option, most customers still prefer not to exchange their existing roof, but go with sleek modules attached to the roof.
Our Texan home owner got an inverter that is just a portion of the size of past inverters, while being more connected than ever. It communicates with smart modules via Power Line Communication and is connected to the web via cellular – the internet of things became a reality. Through this connectivity, data is shared with system owners, O&M providers, grid operators and utilities. The smart home and the smart grid have arrived. And yes, besides all the smart features, the inverter is still converting DC to AC.
Installer Joe had offered several storage and energy management options to the homeowner, but she decided to analyze her family’s energy production and consumption first, and then purchases a tailor-fit solution after a year or so. As an owner of an electrical vehicle, the family is also interested in a smart energy management system to allow charging of the car with solar power, even at night. The available storage options range from high-end solutions based on batteries (both AC and DC coupled versions) to more affordable ways of energy storage such as water heaters controlled in real-time, depending on available solar power. There is no one-fits-all, and customer choice helps the solar and storage industry to grow further.
To summarize, the future of solar is bright. By 2020 the solar industry has settled on open industry standards, enabling industry innovation to drive down cost and allow customer choice. Industry groups, leading technology providers, module and inverter manufacturers come together so that solar customers have access to a variety of cost-effective, simple-to-install and holistic options. Making solar in 2020 smarter, simpler, more affordable – and installers like Joe happier.
— Solar Builder magazine